Emirates president Tim Clark is hopeful that foreign tourists will be visiting Dubai once again by next month.
Speaking at the first virtual Arabian Travel Market on Monday, June 1, Clark told interviewer and aviation expert John Strickland that he hoped tourists would be back in the emirate by July.
It's an ambitious goal. Passenger flights in and out of the UAE have been suspended since March, and only cargo, repatriation and a handful of flights to select destinations are operating. Borders are closed to travellers, residents must apply for permission to fly back to the UAE and there is a 14-day quarantine period for anyone landing in Dubai.
Emirates would be ready to fly again in 48 hours
If travel restrictions were lifted and there was passenger demand to travel, Emirates could ready its fleet to be back in the sky within 48 hours, Clark confirmed during the ATM webinar.
Emirates was flying to 157 destinations across 83 countries before travel restrictions across the globe and in the UAE meant the airline had to ground most of its fleet. There have been plenty of cargo flights, special repatriation flights and the airline recently relaunched limited passenger flights to nine destinations across Europe, North America and Australia.
50 destinations by June
The Dubai airline is also preparing to expand its network to service 50 destinations by the end of June, according to Adel Al Redha, chief operating officer at Emirates.
Network expansions still need approval from government sources, but the airline is working closely with the relevant authorities to make this happen, confirmed Emirates in an email to The National.
Despite this, it's going to be a bit of a wait before travelling returns to normal.
There is likely to be an uptake in the numbers of passengers flying by summer next year, said Clark, but only if a vaccine for the coronavirus is found.
"I think probably by the year 2022 / 23, 2023 / 24 we will see things coming back to some degree of normality and Emirates will be operating its network as it was and hopefully as successfully as it was," said the airline president.
Empty middle seats makes no environmental or economic sense
Keeping the middle seat vacant between passengers for social distancing on flights is not practical, Clark noted, saying the measure was neither economically nor environmentally practical because it means flying aircraft that are half empty.
Emirates will only keep the middle seat empty when load allows, but will focus on continuing to require passengers wear gloves and face masks onboard, confirmed the airline chief. All travellers checking in for an Emirates flight are supplied with hygiene kits containing personal protective equipment to wear at the airport and in the air.
Calling the pandemic unlike anything he's seen before in his career, Clark also recognised that we are witnessing a global crisis that affects more than the aviation industry. "As an industry, we are not alone in the effects of this," said the outgoing president solemnly.
Tim Clark will become an advisor for Emirates next month when he steps down from his current role with the Dubai airline to retire.